Aquatic Answers: Are Stingrays Sharks?

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Sharks and rays, dolphins and whales, otters and octopuses . . . at Harbor Bruise Cruises, we love learning about marine life. There’s certainly no shortage of majestic and fascinating creatures that live in and around the ocean—stingrays included!

         Perhaps you’ve met a stingray at an aquarium, bent over the shallow tank to touch its uniquely textured skin while it glided past you. After all, it’s not uncommon for zoos and aquariums to offer stingray petting encounters, which serves as a testament to the fact that these slender creatures are curious, playful, and non-aggressive.

         This blog will offer you some of our favorite stingray fun facts, plus answer the question, “Are stingrays sharks?”

First Thing’s First: Are Stingrays Sharks?

         The question of “Are stingrays sharks?” is a fantastic one. The answer is no, stingrays are not sharks—but they are closely related. Allow us to explain!

Both sharks and rays belong to Elasmobranchii, a subclass of cartilaginous fish that includes sharks and rays.  

Sharks belong to the subclass Selachii; distinguishing characteristics of this group include streamlined bodies, multiple fins, and rows of sharp teeth. Even though stingrays are characterized as elasmobranchs, they have their specific subclassification within that group: Batoidea. Flattened bodies, wing-like pectoral fins, and (in most cases) a venomous tail are the main characteristics of the batoid group.

Selachii and Batoidea are sister groups. Sharks and rays are closely related because their bodies are made up of soft cartilage rather than bone. Humans have soft cartilage on our ears and the tip of our noses. On this note, now would be a good time to pinch the tip of your nose or feel your ears if you want to know what sharks and rays are made of!

         The cartilaginous skeleton—meaning that sharks and rays have no bones—essentially makes them lighter and more flexible than other sea creatures that aren’t elasmobranchs. It’s also why if you see stingrays up close, you may notice how seemingly buoyant and agile they are. Sharks also have similar “confidence” about them, swimming through the water with a powerful, almost primal grace.

         Now that we’ve answered the question “Are stingrays sharks?” it’s time to share more fun facts about stingrays!

Stingray Fun Fact #1: Stingrays Will Appreciate You Doing the Stingray Shuffle

         Harbor Breeze Cruises is proudly located in Southern California. Whether you live here or are planning an upcoming visit, remember that the stingray population in Southern California has been skyrocketing. It’s regarded as “stingray capital of the world.”

         Wild stingrays will sting you with their barbed tail spine if you get too close and they feel threatened or if you accidentally step on them.

         Stingrays will appreciate knowing you’re in their territory so they can flee. So, how do you make it known that you’re there? Experts recommend performing “The Stingray Shuffle”: simply slide your feet along the bottom of the ocean floor to create vibrations in the sand that will alert nearby stingrays of your presence.

Stingray Fun Fact #2: Stingrays Remain an Integral Part of Our Oceans

         Famous Australian television personality Steve Irwin—also known as “The Crocodile Hunter”—was killed in 2006 after being stung by a short-tail stingray. News of his death not only made fans grieve but also made many of them develop a fear of stingrays.

         While it’s true that stingrays will use their barb for defense, fatal encounters are extremely rare. Furthermore, rather than fear them, we should try to protect them from extinction; our oceans need stingrays; they’re part of their vibrant yet delicate ecosystems.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) notes that “sharks and rays are crucial for the health of our planet, but they are some of the most enigmatic and misunderstood creatures in the ocean.”

Their article on the topic adds that without stingrays, other fish might cease to exist: “Thanks to their unique way of feeding, large bottom-dwelling rays – such as stingrays, cow nose rays, or whiptail rays – act as ‘habitat engineers.’ Hovering over sandy areas, they excavate the sand for food while simultaneously creating micro-habitats for various tiny invertebrates. As they uncover tasty snacks for themselves, they also help many other marine species to feed, from small reef fishes to bigger predatory jacks to seabirds such as cormorants.”

Stingray Fun Fact #3: Sharks and Rays Have Influenced Olympic Swimwear

Sharks and rays have unique, pebbly skin called shagreen. According to the American Museum of Natural History, shagreen “feels rough if you stroke it in one direction (back to front), but smooth if you stroke it in the other (front to back).” Sharks and rays have “modified scales, known as dermal denticles, which contribute to their superb hydrodynamics.” Considering this, designers of high-tech racing swimsuits used in the Olympics made fabric modeled after dermal denticles. Why? Because it expertly reduced drag and turbulence!

Schedule a Cruise With Us!

         Our experienced crew and Aquarium of the Pacific educators at Harbor Breeze Cruises look forward to welcoming you aboard one of our comfortable, custom-built double-deck luxury whale-watching vessels. Learn more about sharks and rays and get close to nature on a cruise that we’re confident you’ll find enjoyable, affordable, and memorable. Tickets for our cruises can be conveniently purchased online or by calling us at 562-983-6880.

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